It’s no secret that Arizona’s junior Senator, Jeff Flake, was going to have his work cut out for him to win a second term. He’s got potential Republican primary challengers circling him like sharks, and the White House has loudly hinted that it wouldn’t mind seeing him go down in the primary.
If Flake wasn’t already feeling the jitters, he definitely felt them on Thursday, when the Democrats landed their dream challenger–three-term Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema.
Watch Sinema announce her candidacy here.
Sinema represents Arizona’s 9th district, which takes in most of southeastern Phoenix, as well as Tempe and parts of Scottsdale, Mesa, and Chandler. It’s incredibly swingy on paper, with heaviliy Democratic Tempe being balanced out by the Republican-tilting portions of the East Valley. However, Sinema has worked this district very well. She narrowly won her congressional seat in 2012 by just over 10,000 votes, but has increased her margin of victory in the last two contests. In 2014, for instance, she breezed to a 14-point victory even in the face of a Republican sweep of all statewide offices.
In announcing her candidacy, Sinema said that after spending much of her childhood in poverty before her family climbed back to the middle class, she wanted to “help others get their shot.” She sees her Senate bid as a chance to “do more for my country.”
Reflecting the swingy nature of her district, Sinema has compiled a reputation for bipartisanship. According to GovTrack.US, she is the third most bipartisan member of the House. However, she has been one of the most vocal opponents of Trump’s hardline immigration policy; notably, she has been one of the loudest supporters of measures to protect Dreamers. She also won’t lack for money; she starts the race with $3.2 million on hand, essentially tied with Flake’s $3 million. Considering that she will have to advertise on increasingly expensive Phoenix television, she’s going to need every penny.
On paper, Sinema is taking a considerable risk by giving up a seat where she has forged a seemingly unbreakable hold for the uncertainties of a Senate bid. But in truth, Sinema is crazy like a fox. For one thing, there’s no guarantee that Flake will even get out of the primary. Flake was known as a conservative hero during his five terms representing the East Valley in the House, but his tack toward the middle and his criticism of Trump have attracted a slew of challengers to the Republican primary.
Notably, former state senator Kelli Ward, a tea partier from central casting, has set her sights on Flake after holding John McCain to 51 percent in the 2016 primary. Trump appeared to endorse her via a tweet in August.
Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He's toxic!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017
Considering that Arizona is now undeniably a purple state, it would have been gross malpractice, to say the least, if Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Chris Van Hollen didn’t at least try to find a credible Democrat for this race. That would be especially true given the chance that Flake could potentially get bounced in the primary.
Schumer all but begged Sinema to get in the race by having his friends at Senate Majority PAC commission a poll showing Sinema beating Flake 47 percent to 40 percent. That same poll showed Ward pummeling Flake in the Republican primary, 58-31. Those numbers seem to track with a poll in August from Republican consulting firm HighGround Public Affairs that showed Sinema beating Flake 40-32 in a general election matchup, while Ward beats Flake 42-28. In truth, Sinema may have decided to get in the race as early as August. According to The Arizona Republic, the DSCC had already decided to throw its weight behind her by then–a decision it normally doesn’t make unless a candidate is already in the running.
The message is obvious–if Flake comes out of the Republican primary, he’s going to be bloodied. And that won’t leave a lot in the tank for what will be only the second general election contest in which he’s had to do any heavy lifting. He never dropped below 60 percent of the vote in a district that would elect a comatose Republican, and only got across the finish line in 2012 due to Mitt Romney’s coattails.
Flake and his Republican colleagues have already reverted to a Republican standby–branding Sinema as a far-out liberal. Apparently he forgets that Arizona is not the same state that it was when he first came to Washington. Apparently it’s changed enough that we could potentially elect the nation’s second openly LGBT Senator; she was already the first openly bisexual member of the House.
With Dean Heller already in the race of his life in Nevada, Sinema’s entry into the race makes the path to a Democratic Senate a lot easier. But Sinema is going to need a lot of help to pull it off. Click here to donate.
(featured image courtesy Sinema’s Facebook)